Tag Archives: airports

Arriving in Cambodia

The second post in a brief series about our amazing Cambodia trip.  Post 1, Sunrise at Angkor Wat, fits chronologically at the end of this post.

The flight from KL to Siem Reap is about 2 hours, with a 1-hour time difference. It was a really easy trip and with flexible dates you can find good deals on air travel. We spent a 4-day weekend, but could have easily spent a week.  Angkor Wat was Micah’s choice of a “must do” trip and it didn’t disappoint! I think it’s a place we will go back to at some point.  We did pack in a lot, but there was also a lot that we didn’t get to do.  For example, we “only” did the main temples, there are several others in outlying areas that are historically older, but due to time and distance we didn’t make it.  Another thing we would have liked to have done in Cambodia is visit Phnom Penh; we both felt guilty about going to Cambodia to see the temples without acknowledging the country’s more recent and troubled history.

When we landed in Siem Reap, we deplaned on the tarmac and had to walk to the immigration and customs building. There were some official looking people to make sure we were headed in the right direction, but otherwise we were on our own. We needed visas to enter Cambodia, and we chose to apply online and get e-visas, rather than fill out the paperwork and pay for them at the airport. It just seemed easier to have them in hand, and I think it made our processing time a little faster since we’d already been approved to enter the country. We had other customs declarations and things that we’d filled out on the plane as well. One of them went to the immigration official as we passed through but we still had the others as we collected our bags and exited customs. On the way out the door, quite literally about 20 feet away from the door to the outside, there was a box where we very officially dropped the rest of our paperwork. No one was even checking to make sure we complied. But of course we did. Goal #1 of our entire expat year: avoid causing international incidents. No point in testing the limits at this point, so close to the end.

Tuk tuk selfie!

Tuk tuk selfie!

Our hotel had sent a driver to pick us up and we found him really easily and trotted off to his tuk tuk. Our first time in a tuk tuk! The Cambodian version of this form of transportation is a motorcycle with a cart in tow. The cart has a roof, but open sides, and seating for 4 adults on cushioned benches that face each other. It was reasonably comfortable, but we learned several things about being tuk tuk passengers on the quick ride back to the hotel: Wearing eye protection was crucial and it was helpful to have a bandana or something over your nose and mouth as the streets were very dusty. Micah and I also felt more comfortable if one or the other of us put an arm across the back of the bench to make a little more shoulder room, too.

It was late afternoon, and very hot. We thought the temperature would be similar to KL since the two cities aren’t that far apart geographically. But the heat in Siem Reap felt more brutal. It was the kind of heat where the particular quality of the air and the light just look hot. It even smelled hot. KL is more humid, and while the humidity here is oppressive, the moisture in the air makes the temperature feel different. Not more bearable, just different. I guess it depends what you’re used to!

Our villa

Our villa

When we arrived at the hotel, we were offered a “welcome drink” of chilled apple juice as well as cool wash cloths. After the plane and the dusty tuk tuk ride, both of these things were a nice touch. We were then shown to our room, which turned out to be a really nice, freestanding villa, and quite large! We planned out our weekend based on Lonely Planet’s typically excellent recommendations, and went to the front desk to ask about hiring a driver for the next day to do the tour we had just mapped out. Through some combination of language barrier and the fact that the hotel offered set tour packages, it turned out to be quite difficult to just a hire a driver for the day. The prices for the tour packages were very reasonable, and it was clear that it would just be easier to book their pre-packaged tours. So we booked “the small tour” for the next day and tacked on sunrise at Angkor Wat, for both of us this was $23 USD.  At a total cost of $48 USD for both of us, we booked “the grand tour” for the day after, plus sunset, and we also tacked on an extra temple in an outlying area. In retrospect we should have saved the extra temple for Monday morning when we didn’t have anything else planned. The extra temples, plus the grand tour, plus sunset made for a really long day.

Lily pad pond at the reception desk

Lily pad pond at the reception desk

With our tours booked, we went in to town and walked around a little. We walked through the night market, because walking through night markets is always good entertainment in Southeast Asia, and shopped a little bit. We knew we wanted to buy kramas, the traditional Cambodian scarf, and it looked like all of the stalls had approximately the same selection. So we picked a stall more or less at random and picked out two that we liked. We’re a little better about negotiating than we were in Thailand, but I didn’t bargain very hard for the kramas. I have a soft spot for female shop keepers, I always assume they are entrepreneurs and therefore I don’t mind paying an extra $1 or $2.  We did successfully bargain for the other souvenirs we picked up though!  (Sidebar:  Cambodia uses U.S. currency.  It was simultaneously weird and comforting to have American money in our wallets again.  Especially when the prices ran on par with Southeast Asian prices, instead of U.S. prices.)

After shopping and a little bit of people watching, it was time to call it a night. It wasn’t very late, maybe 9:30pm or so, but our driver was picking us up at 4:30 the next morning. Early to bed for us! Micah had no problem going to sleep right away, however I had one of my periodic bouts of insomnia and ended up being awake until after 1am. There was loud music playing somewhere near by, and then some dogs started the midnight edition of the twilight bark, plus being in an unfamiliar bed and room…I was just awake. One strange thing that kept me awake was how utterly and completely dark it was in the room. No ambient light at all. Normally this would be a good thing, but ambient light filters into our hotel all night in KL. There’s a gap between the curtains and the wall, so at best it’s dark grey in our room. I guess I’ve gotten used to it and had a hard time sleeping in a dark room! Another instance of “it depends what you are used to” as the ambient light used to keep me awake in KL and now apparently completely dark rooms keep me awake, too.

Next up, chronologically speaking, is Sunrise at Angkor Wat, which is already published.  Followed by Angkor Wat: The Small Tour

There & Back Again: Traveling to and from Australia

Part 1 of the Great Sydney Caper

The last time we flew out of the KL airport, we went to Phuket, Thailand on a long weekend.  We flew out mid-morning and had planned on grabbing a bite to eat at the airport. We discovered, however, that once you get past security there isn’t really any food in the airport. This made for a very hungry, very grumpy trip. So we learned our lesson and made sure we had breakfast before we took off this time! After we checked in, we also took the opportunity to have a cup of coffee before going through security. Immigration and security were a breeze and we made our way to the gate…past plenty of places to grab a bite to eat or a cup of coffee. As it turns out, there are two different international terminals in Kuala Lumpur. Technically, they are the same airport, but KLIA2 (where we flew out to go to Thailand) is a completely separate building in a completely separate area. KLIA2 apparently doesn’t have any food past security, but the “regular” KLIA had plenty. Now we know!

In Kuala Lumpur, (and also in Singapore,) you have to go through security (again) before entering your gate area. In KL, we went through security and immigration, and then another security scan at the gate. In Singapore, there is no security at all until you reach your gate. It’s a really different procedure than what we are used to in the States. But, one positive is that the gate-side procedure typically goes pretty quickly since it’s only the folks on your flight. The gate opens about an hour or so before the flight, so there’s plenty of time. But the downside is, once you’re there, you’re there. No restroom or any other diversions.  Unless you want to go back through security.

The flight from KL to Singapore is really quick, about an hour. Then we had a 4.5-hour layover in Singapore. It was kind of boring, as layovers typically are, but there are actual things to do at that airport! They have a gym and a spa, a pool, several different gardens with live plants, a movie theater, some really nice lounge areas, and a ton of shops to browse in. They didn’t seem to have any sit down restaurants though, just small cafes.  That seemed strange to me, as a long layover is often improved by a sit down meal at an overpriced mediocre restaurant.

A Toblerone Ferris wheel!  What other wonders does the airport have to offer?!

A Toblerone Ferris wheel! What other wonders does the airport have to offer?!

The flight from Singapore to Sydney was about 7.5 hours, and it was overnight. I really dislike flying overnight. The time change to Sydney is only 3 hours for us, so I guess it’s sort of like taking a red eye flight from the West Coast to the East Coast. I’m not a fan though.  I’d rather get somewhere and have the opportunity to sleep and/or check in to my hotel right away, rather than arriving early enough in the morning that you have the whole day ahead of you…and you feel nasty from a day’s worth of travel already. When I’ve been on international flights before, it seems like they try to get you on the local time of where you’re landing as quickly as possible. On this flight, they served dinner about 1am Sydney time. Since we were landing at 7:30am, it meant we didn’t really get a solid several hours of napping before or after the meal service. It made our first day a very low energy one, for sure! One very cool thing about the overnight flight was seeing the sunrise over Australia. One minute it was pitch black and we couldn’t see anything, the next minute the horizon was full of color. It was really beautiful.

Sunrise over Australia.

Sunrise over Australia.

Arriving in Sydney was relatively uneventful. Immigration and customs was fine. It was far less stressful flying in to Australia than to Thailand since we were sure we would be able to read signs and easily ask for help if necessary. Australia has pretty strict rules on what you can and can’t bring in, including seeds and nuts, but my trail mix did not get confiscated! The cab ride to the hotel was great, too, since there was absolutely no traffic. And since it was so early, there wasn’t really a queue for the cab either, which was nice. We arrived at the hotel way too early to check in, but they were nice enough to store our bags for the day. We ate breakfast, walked around for a while to see what was around us, and met an old friend of mine for lunch! The overnight flight wasn’t ideal, but all things considered, the trip there was smooth and easy.

On the way home, we had a ridiculous 11-hour, overnight layover in Singapore. So we got to the Sydney airport already dreading this long trip. For Micah’s birthday, I had arranged red velvet cupcakes as a surprise. We had a few left over when it was time to leave, so we decided to take one each with us and give the last three to the front desk crew at the hotel as a gratuity of sorts. We arrived at the airport, each of us holding a cupcake very carefully while we juggled backpacks and suitcases. We got a lot of stares; I maintain people were just jealous of our cupcakes. The line to check in was ridiculously long, so we settled in to wait our turn, and not very patiently either. After we’d been in the line for 5 or 10 minutes, we got pulled out and sent across the corridor to the priority access line. I have no idea why we qualified for special treatment- maybe the cupcakes made us look important! Or else maybe there was going to be a riot as people tried to steal them. I don’t know. But the priority access line made things much smoother and faster, and we got to enjoy our cupcakes before we headed for immigration and security.

After the chaos of the check in line, getting through immigration and security was a breeze. We made it to our gate with about an hour and a half before boarding. The Sydney airport was like airports in the States, all the security screening happened at once- we didn’t have to do another round at the gate. We had a few Aussie dollars left and with the conversion rate being about .80 USD to 1 AUS at the time, we decided to just spend them. We took turns shopping for post cards, snacks, and refrigerator magnets and successfully managed to leave nearly all of our Aussie money at the airport.

The flight to Singapore was fine, really uneventful. We got to see the sunset over Australia, which made a nice bookend to the sunrise on our way there. We would land in Singapore around 10pm local time, and I managed to nap a little bit but not very much on the flight. The Singapore airport has a Transit Hotel inside the secured area, where you can rent a room in 6-hour blocks. That was our plan for our crazy 11-hour (overnight) layover. It didn’t even occur to us that everyone else stuck in the airport overnight would have the same plan, and they were booked. We asked around about our other options and eventually went to the regular airport hotel, outside the secured area, prepared to spend a small fortune. But they were booked as well. Our last choice was renting space in a “nap room.” I’ve never been on a cruise, but I imagine the room was pretty similar to a small berth on a cruise ship. There was an over-sized cot, a shelf…and that’s really it. We actually had to rent two of them, because there’s no way both of us would have slept comfortably on the bed. They rent those rooms in 4-hour increments for a set price and you can tack on additional hours for a nice extra fee. The room came with a hot meal and access to a shower, and we decided to tack on an extra hour. For both rooms, we spent just as much as we likely would have at a standard airport hotel in the U.S. Honestly, it was a lot for what we got but we were stuck and this was our best option.  Oh well.  Live and learn and make reservations at the transit hotel!  When we were arranging our hot meals for the next day, the front desk manager asked what time our flight was departing.  She actually let us have an additional hour free when she found out our flight was mid morning and we just didn’t want to pay for more time.  She was really very nice and we are very thankful that she helped us out!  So we got a reasonable amount of sleep, had a hot shower and a reasonable breakfast.  The bonus extra hour helped make the cost worth it, and it was certainly better than sleeping on the floor of the terminal.

The sun sets on our great Sydney adventure.  (I thought I got a picture of the sunrise as well, but apparently not.  You'll have to imagine the other book end.)

The sun sets on our great Sydney adventure.

Like I said above, there’s no security scan in Singapore before you get to the gate. The nap rooms are in the “public” area of the airport, so we had to go back through immigration. We were expecting security, but there was nothing. It was really strange to be in the airport terminal, which was allegedly a secured area, without passing through security.  By the time we claimed a spot in the lounge, I think we had about 2.5 hours before boarding, so it wasn’t a terrible wait.  And, we collected a Singapore stamp for our passport, so there’s that.

On the quick flight back to KL, we were informed that we each had a $5 voucher. I have no idea what we did to earn the voucher. The airline we were on doesn’t serve complimentary drinks, though, you have to pay for anything you want- including juice or soda. So it was nice to have the voucher and get “free” juice!

On the ground in KL, we were getting ourselves ready to go back through immigration and head home when we realized that Micah had left his fabulous new Aussie hat on the plane! He had a nice sprint back to the gate to collect it. Fortunately, someone was walking out with it at the same time he arrived at the gate, so crisis averted.  Whew.

Since cab fare is based on how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B, we elected to save the money, avoid any potential traffic snarls, and take the train back to the city. It costs RM70, about $21 or $22 USD, for both of us to take the train, as opposed to a cab ride that could easily be around RM100. They have an express train from the airport, so it’s really easy to get to the city with your luggage. Once you’re there, it’s a little trickier. From the central station, we would have to take the regular subway to our stop. Luckily it was still early enough in the day that there weren’t a ton of people on board and our suitcases weren’t in the way. Walking through the mall, though, was a little tricky. Not awful, but tricky. I’m not sure I’d want to do it again after a long flight, long layover, and dragging a large suitcase. A carry on size bag might be fine. We made it back to our hotel, had some lunch, and then settled in for a power nap before doing laundry and getting ready for work to start the next day.

Coming Up: On the Greatness of Walking Tours, or How We Explored Sydney